Jesus told His disciples a story about how some people trust in themselves for their righteousness–that is, they are self-righteous–and in so doing, they look down on everyone else.
In the story Jesus told about a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to the Temple to pray.
Tax collectors were Jews who collected taxes from the Jewish citizenry levied by the Roman government. So they were considered turncoats, sellouts, traitors. Undoubtedly, some tax collectors used their position and authority to deal unscrupulously with their Jewish brothers and padded their own pockets. Pharisees were learned practitioners of the Jewish law and, likely, were extremely loyal to Jewish culture and tradition.
So the contrast between the two men entering the Temple could not have been keener and was certainly clear to those hearing the story.
The Pharisee thanked God that he wasn’t greedy, unrighteous, or immoral like other people, especially this tax collector. But the tax collector would not even look up toward heaven, pounded on his chest, and cried out for God to turn His wrath from him because he was a sinner.
Amazingly, Jesus maintained that the tax collector left the Temple more justified than the Pharisee because the Pharisee exalted himself while the tax collector humbled himself! So, according to this parable, humility is an essential component of maintaining a loving relationship with God.
Comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, tells a joke about people who win silver medals (or 2nd place) in Olympic competitions. According to Seinfeld winning the silver medal doesn’t mean you are one of the best in the world. It really means you are the best of all the losers!
Christians are much like that. We aren’t the best people in the world. We are really more like the best of the worst people in the world! It’s like the bumper sticker says, “Sinners, Saved by Grace.”
On the one hand, we can become self-righteous and proud even when we are trying hard to live for God. We can try so hard that we start to trust in our own goodness and righteousness. On the other hand, it’s like the lyrics to the song Mac Davis used to sing, “It’s hard to be humble!”
The best way to maintain humility in your relationship with God is to lean hard on Him for His goodness and righteousness to be manifest in your life.
And keep reminding yourself that you are just the best of the worst, a sinner in need of God’s mercy…who has received it!
What is highly admired by people is revolting in God’s sight. (Luke 16:15, HCSB)